Stanford University

News Service



CONTACT: Stanford University News Service (650) 723-2558

EDITORS: For transcripts of Secretary Christopher's speech and the question and answer session that followed it, contact the State Department's fax on demand at (202) 736-7720 or check the World Wide Web at For a report on Secretary Christopher's visit to Stanford, contact Stanford News Service (650) 723-2558 or our Website at

Transcript of press conference April 9 following Secretary of State's policy address on the environment and foreign policy

STANFORD -- Following is a transcript of a press conference that followed Secretary of State Warren Christopher's major foreign policy address on the environment on Tuesday, April 9. Undersecretary of State Timothy Wirth joined a panel of Stanford experts on the international environment, population, agriculture and security issues. The panel was moderated by Douglas Foster, Director of the Stanford News Service. Participants were:

  • Paul Ehrlich, Bing Professor in Population Studies
  • Marcus Feldman, Professor of Biological Sciences
  • David Holloway, Professor of Political Science
  • Donald Kennedy, Bing Professor in Environmental Science
  • Rosamond Naylor, Fellow, Institute for International Studies
  • Timothy Wirth, Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs

Foster: Welcome. We're joined today by a couple of faculty members. We're among a group of 35 faculty and students who met with Secretary Christopher this morning to discuss ways that the university's expertise in international environmental concerns could be useful to the initiative the Secretary announced.

First up is Paul Ehrlich, who is Bing Professor in Population Studies. He's the winner of the 1990 Crawfoord Prize, the Swedish "Nobel for ecology." He is founder of the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford; his research is on problems ranging from how to save individual populations of endangered species to how to calculate the entire earth's carrying capacity for human populations. He is co-author of The Population Bomb and 30 other books on ecology and environmental policy. A PBS documentary, "Paul Ehrlich and the Population Bomb," will air April 26.

Marcus Feldman is a professor of biological sciences and director of the Morrison Institute for Population Studies. He has worked with many governments, most extensively China's, to calculate the impact of high- versus low-population growth, on food resources, economic prosperity and security, as well as the role of the anomalous sex ratio in China's population.

We're joined also by David Holloway, professor of political science. He is co-director of the Center for International Security and Arms Control of the Institute for International Studies at Stanford. He is an expert on international security and strategic stability, Soviet and
post-Soviet nuclear arms, nuclear decision-making. In a private meeting before Secretary Christopher's address, Holloway briefed him today on IIS studies of lessons from past arms control negotiations that may suggest solutions to regional conflicts over environment and resources.

Donald Kennedy is Bing Professor in Environmental Science. He is president emeritus of Stanford University, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Admnistration, co-director of the Global Environment Forum of the Institute for International Studies. He was also in the meeting this morning with Secretary Christopher.

Rosamond Naylor is a fellow at the Institute for International Studies. She is director of the Goldman Honors Program in Environmental Science, Technology and Policy of the Institute for International Studies. A member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She is an economist specializing in population and food resources, especially rice and labor transitions in Asia. She is an affiliated scentist with International Rice Research Institute in Manila, and the Center for Wheat and Maize Improvement in Mexico.

Timothy Wirth, Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs, a former congressman and senator from Colorado, was appointed at the start of the Clinton administration as the first Undersecretary for Global Affairs. He is responsible for the environment, population, migration, narcotics and related issues. Ph.D. '73 in education from Stanford. His brother, John Wirth, is a professor of history. His daughter is a student in the Graduate School of Business and his son recently graduated from Stanford.

I also know Gretchen Daily is here, who is Bing Interdisciplinary Scholar for Environmental Studies.

Paul Ehrlich: Let me say first that it was a stunningly good speech. I never thought I'd live long enough to see a secretary of state actually communicate what is basically the scientific community's view of the current population resource environment problem.

He touched all of the bases. He understands that population growth interacts with high levels of consumption in the use of faulty technologies to threaten our security in many different ways, in part our dietary security, because the CO2 that the Chinese are putting into the air and that we're putting into the air may change the climate rapidly enough to stress our food system so that even people in the United States will have difficulties, at least buying food. He even touched on the issue which concerns the biomedical community very strongly, of the interaction between global change caused by the expanding human enterprise and our susceptibility to disease, which is an extraordinarily serious security problem.

So I was enormously pleased by the speech. It shows me that the State Department now is in contact with the feelings of the scientific community as expressed in the statement by 58 of the world's academies of science, on the population situation a year or so ago, and by the well-known world scientist warning to humanity, which was signed by over 2000 scientists, more than half of all the living Nobel laureates in science, basically saying, if we do not address these issues, we are going to be in deep, deep trouble. And that's the direction we're going, and it pleases me enormously to see that the U.S. State Department is now getting on top of these issues and has actual solid plans for really integrating them into the issues of national security that we all must address.

Marcus Feldman: I thought it was an excellent speech, too, and I think that one very important aspect of it was the combination of the global perspective and the local perspective, as portrayed in the four points that the Secretary enunciated. The local perspectives have to be taken into account, and he gave the example of the decline of life expectancy in Russia. Of course, he omitted to say that during the same period the life expectancy in China has gone up. So the expectancy there is well over 70 now. That has implications for our understanding of the future economy of China, just as the drop in the life expectancy in Russia has for our understanding of the economy there.

But the understanding that one has to negotiate in that bilateral way, because of the indigenous peculiarities of each of the nations, is very important, as well as taking a global perspective. One way in which the technologies that the Secretary referred to are so well developed in this country can be used is in developing computer models for the expression of the effects of changing attitudes, changing parameters in the population projection, changing fertility, changing mortality, the changing industrial outputs, changing how much water is available for the rest of the environment. These computer programs are developed, some of them already exist in games that are available for purchase in the stores, like SimCity, SimEarth, you might have heard of those, that are quite ingenious and can be very informative as to what tuning one of the parameters of an economy does to the environmental situation in the population as a whole.

These are technologies that are not usually referred to as environmentally sound technologies, but I think they can be very useful as a diplomatic tool in making them available to the various ministries in each of the countries with which we deal.

David Holloway: I, too, was very taken with the speech. I thought it was very meaty, full of proposals, but all underpinned by a common theme, and I, too, was struck by the combination in the speech of a global perspective with the perspective of U.S. foreign policy.

One of the things that has been characteristic of the nuclear age and, indeed, of the Cold War was that even in conditions of intense political rivalry, once it was understood that there was a common danger that faced the human race, namely, the danger of nuclear war, then it became possible for people to cooperate in dealing with that particular danger. And here, I think, a great deal depends on the creating and fostering a common understanding of the environmental dangers, threats to security, that come from environmental degradation and population growth, and so on. And it seems to me it's precisely on the basis of a common understanding that we can, in fact, achieve cooperation.

I think the U.S., given its role in the post-Cold War world - people talk about the only superpower, it's not an expression I much care for, but it's clear that the U.S. is the most powerful state in the world - the U.S. can have enormous influence for good by putting its weight behind the environmental issue and encouraging governments to cooperate in dealing with environmental challenges. So I think the speech was a very important and encouraging one.

Donald Kennedy: I won't echo Paul's sentiments about the speech as a whole because I share them completely.

I want to call your attention to a theme that emerged in the questioning a number of our students asked what worries a lot of us, namely, what can you do with developing countries who have economic aspirations to be more like us and yet we're in a position of wanting to jawbone them to limit those aspirations in the interest of preserving the environmental commons. Those are tough questions.

People under the age of 25 believe that the United States ought to be able to go out and do something dramatic and make other nations behave, and of course, they can't. And Chris seemed to parry those questions and to respond to them somewhat diplomatically. He had to.

What he said during his speech that was really significant was the sense that this belongs in every embassy. There is a serious commitment to follow up by actually equipping the State Department to deal on the ground in another nation's capital with their aspirations and their needs, not only by delivering advice that the State Department has, but by forming partnerships with nongovernmental organizations, with universities, with business, to begin to develop a package of models of the kinds of computer software that Marc Feldman mentioned briefly. In other words, to support a set of remarkable commitments with serious technology on the ground that can help nations make their own decisions about their own economic development in ways that permit that development both to serve peoples aspirations and to protect the environment.

For me, that was a key part of the speech because it dealt with what is in a way the most intractable and difficult problem that we face.

Rosamond Naylor: I was also very impressed with the speech and I noticed a number of very important references to a topic that I'm involved in, which is agriculture. But I thought that the agricultural issue was somewhat dissociated as a central theme, and let me just make one or two remarks on that point.

Agriculture is one of the main driving forces of land use change globally. It's the cause of much of the loss of biodiversity that we're seeing globally, much of the cause of ecosystem damage that we're seeing globally. In terms of resources, over two-thirds of the freshwater resources that are used are consumed by agriculture. The irrigated systems are now starting to fail for a number of reasons that really deserve more proper attention.

On all the themes that were mentioned today, greenhouse gases, agriculture contributes not nitrous oxide, methane carbon. In terms of CFCs, methyl bromide rate in our back yard here is a major contributor to CFCs under current legislation.

So agriculture needs to become a more central theme, particularly as the State Department starts to focus its efforts in developing countries. Agriculture employs over 50 percent of the labor force, and in a number of these countries contributes over 25 percent of GDP. So certainly in making the links between development and the environment, land use change, biodiversity, greenhouse gases, agriculture certainly has to come in there.

The State Department now has an opportunity later this fall through the Food Summit to put agriculture back on the agenda in a meaningful way. Not just to look at production targets, but to really link agriculture, land use change, resource use and poverty. And I think that the State Department is really in a key position to do this, particularly with the most recent trends that we're starting to see. Maize prices internationally are at an all-time high in the futures markets. Wheat prices are rising. We're starting to see the signs of the shortages that Paul Ehrlich and others have been predicting, and whether or not this is a long-term trend, I think it really deserves much more attention.

I think in retrospect the reason for not wanting to push this issue that much is that it's very difficult to get ministries of agriculture sitting down and talking with ministries of environment and the State Department and ministries of finance, which drive a lot of this through exchange rate and interest rate policies. We've had our own difficulties here at Stanford just getting biologists, economists, lawyers and so forth talking to each other. So I know it's an enormous task, but I think this year is the year to do it.

Question: Given the fact that China has been uncooperative on trade issues, what cooperation can you expect on environmental issues?

Tim Wirth: Well, it's raw self-interest. The Chinese are understanding that while it may be debatable from their perspective about our economic leverage or about how they ought to be working in a world-wide arms market, there's no question in their mind that they're in deep trouble environmentally. Following up on Rio, the Chinese put together probably the most ambitious sustainable development plan of any country in the world. It's a very comprehensive and extremely impressive operation. They know that they are about to hit an environmental wall full speed, and that that environmental wall is a function of soil erosion, water degradation, air pollution, and a whole series of other issues, and they are very eager to work with us. As the Secretary pointed out today, we have to, in the words of another great American, walk and chew gum at the same time. We have to figure out how to negotiate those very difficult political and economic issues, while at the other side, to work and cooperate with the government of China on environmental issues.

After all, somebody who burns coal in Shanghai to stay warm, warms us at the same time. We all get warm together in this, and we have enormous stakes in what happens.

Feldman: I would just add to that that the Chinese were the first large country to recognize the true nature of the population resource environment problem and start doing something about it. They are, as Tim said, very much involved in self-interest here, and we haven't done all the things that we should have been doing to help move things in the right direction.

For example, as we discussed with the Secretary earlier this morning, the U.S. and Australia should be collaborating right now to deploy a solar hydrogen technology on a large scale to show the Chinese that it's feasible to do it on a large scale so that we can give them an alternative to either going fully nuclear with the problem there or continuing to burn their high sulphur coal, both of which would present threats not only to the Chinese but to the world as a whole. So we haven't had that as part of our thinking enough, what we could do to set examples for countries like China, who already have the self-interest and would like to find ways to solve these problems.

Question: What about the difference between rhetoric and practice? The U.S. signed a treaty on the Arctic [environment], yet U.S. agencies [support] companies that log there.

Wirth: A number of the agencies of the federal government are independent agencies and they guard their independence fiercely. Congress, particularly a Congress that may not agree with the goals that we're reflecting, probably put even greater barriers around their independence. So there is within the fabric of U.S. government often not a particularly consistent policy because of the legislative barriers that have been built over the years.

Congress has deliberately set up agencies that have an independent voice and an independent charter. Having said that, we work, for example, very carefully with other agencies. Hidro Vira, for all of those who don't know about it, is a plan in some people's minds to develop an enormous river highway - Hidro Vira - in the central part of South America which would potentially have very significant negative environmental impacts if, in fact, it drains some of the great wetlands. We are working carefully with the impacted governments there to bring them up to see the mistakes that we made on the Mississippi, in the Everglades, to try to point out where we did the right things and where we did the wrong things. We are at the same time working as we always do with our governors of the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank in terms of the authority that they have to vote for or against these projects.

So where we have leverage we try to bring that to bear. We usually do have leverage. Sometimes we don't, given the legislative nature of the particular agencies, some of which you mentioned.

Question: Turning toward the environment, are there certain "rogue nations"?

Wirth: It's also a very interesting question to talk about the evolution of these. We were talking about that at the seminar this morning. One of the professors raised with the Secretary said why don't we encourage major players to get together? If we had a G7 of major environmental countries rather than major economic countries. Well, in fact, that's now evolving. We have a special relationship [on environment] with India, Brazil, with the EEU, with Russia, with Japan. These are all the new common agendas that the Secretary refers to.

The idea that in 1996 the United States would have a special environmental agenda with India or Brazil is something that, as these gentlemen up here who have studied this a lot longer than I have would say, ten or fifteen years ago would have been absurd. Not absurd, would have been unthinkable. There were some countries that just were not with the program internationally that today are becoming very close allies of ours, and we're about to develop this new relationship with China as to the first question that Vice President Gore has been negotiating and we hope will be announced some time this summer.

Question: Which countries still aren't getting it that are causing a lot of the problems?

Wirth: These are the major countries that have an impact. There are some countries that are deeply engaged in logging, for example, some countries in Southeast Asia, it's not my business to go point fingers but rather to say if we do have a problem, I go sit down and meet with their environmental minister and we try to get Bob Rubin to go meet with their finance minister, we try to get the two of them together, point out what's going on, try to bring pressure from the private sector. As the Secretary said this morning, it's our job to try to nurture people back over the line. And it's working. There are enormous economic pressures that are coming from some countries, particularly in the area of logging, others in the area of the live fish trade, which is a booming trade in South Asia now, it's really appallingly destructive of coral reefs, the rain forests and the oceans.

And we're working through the Nature Conservancy and the chemical companies. I recently had a meeting with some major chemical companies in my office who are helping us to figure out how to trace where the various chemicals are used and who makes them and where they come from. And we take that to the countries where the practice is the worst and work with them.

I don't want to put together a catalog of countries. There are horrors out there that were worse five years ago or ten years ago, and we hope they're getting better.

Question: Very diplomatic. How does that affect our relationship with the Chinese government? If China doesn't cooperate on the environment, would that affect trade negotiations?

Wirth: It's a very interesting question. What you're touching upon is, are we going to be at a time where we begin for environmental reasons to begin to use leverage that we have elsewhere to enforce various environmental goals? We have done that. We did that through the tuna-dolphin treaty. We've done that through the turtle-extruder device and the focus on shrimping and how shrimping is done. We've done that through the international treaty on endangered species. There are a number of places where we've used our own environmental goals to reach to try to use effectively a kind of sanction to change other people's behavior. The World Trade Organization is right smack in the middle of that. NAFTA was right smack in the middle of that. How much do you use our economic leverage to try to make an impact elsewhere?

This is probably not an issue that is a problem with China, because China has so many environmental problems that they're coming to us and asking for help. It's not that we have to go to them and try to enforce the problem with them, but rather they're coming to us and saying can we help you out? It does exist in other areas and it's an area that is probably one of the most complicated emerging areas of international law is how do you treat the post-GAT era, the development of the World Trade Organization, and environmental issues in one reasonable package? We're really groping in trying to figure it out. Maybe the Stanford Law School and the Stanford Business School and all of the good professors in behavioral science can help us figure out how to make it work.

Question: Secretary Christopher said countries that misuse their people misuse the environment. Doesn't the U.S. do that when our companies relocate overseas?

Wirth: I would disagree with the assumption of your question that the U.S. is relocating companies in places where the environmental laws are weak. For the most part, the U.S. companies that are moving around the world, the multinationals, are taking with them very high environmental standards and, in fact, they are there raising standards rather than moving to a lower common denominator.

There are some rogue companies who are moving because of low standards, but that is not the case for the most. It is a higher standard that American companies are bringing, and that's very welcome.

A more difficult issue is what happens with old U.S. plants that have run out of their lifetime in the United States, their economic lifetime because of environmental standards, and those plants are disassembled and moved elsewhere, and they are of a higher quality in many cases than the plants that are already there but lower than the standards that we would take. That's a more difficult question and we don't know how to deal with it yet.

Take an old steel mill, for example. You've seen pictures of Chinese workmen coming in to Texas and totally disassembling a plant overnight, labeling all the pieces, they take it to China, reconstruct it as something that would not meet environmental standards of the United States anymore is higher than most things that are done in China. What's the value that you place on that? I don't know.

Question: Given the stalemate that has existed between these administrations and Congress over environmental and domestic issues for the past couple of years, what elements of the Secretary's speech today would require formation of bipartisan coalitions or some changes in Congress?

Kennedy: I want to mention a couple of things. I think a lot of what is in the Secretary's speech doesn't require statutory change, doesn't require new legislative initiative. It's something that they can do. I think the most serious problem with it is that the Secretary has to go out there and work over and over again with an international agency to which we belong to whom we haven't paid our dues, and I think the best thing Americans could do is to press the Congress to withdraw their resistance to making us paid-up members of the United Nations and the other multilateral, international organizations on which we are going to have to depend partly to get this work done.

But as far as statutory capacity, I don't think there's much that he needs from the Congress.

Wirth: Hear hear to what Don says about the United Nations and other national organizations. It is absolutely imperative and we have so much leverage because the world looks to us for leadership. It's just constantly biting us around the ankles, this debt, constantly, constantly, constantly, and we're losing our credibility.

But on the bipartisan issue there is a rapid changing; if you watch, the Congress is moving very quickly back to a bipartisan nature of environmental issues. Remember that these issues started legislatively in the United States 25 years ago when Richard Nixon was President. Muskie controlled the debate in the Senate, Mo Udall controlled the debate in the House. The Democrats and Republicans played off of each other and competed for the environmental vote. The big mistake that was made politically in the 1980s - and I was as guilty as anybody - was that the Democrats totally co-opted the environmental issue and it became a free ride for Republicans.

In American politics the fundamental rule is that any interest group, any issue, does better if it makes both political parties compete for it. Now the environmental community is back understanding that imperative. And that's starting to happen again, and you're starting to see a swing back toward the center, particularly from young members of Congress whom most of you have never heard of - people like Wayne Gilchrest from the eastern shore of Maryland, a former carpenter who is probably the best environmentalist in the Congress, a Republican from the eastern shore; Sherwood Boehlert from New York; Curt Weldon, a conservative lawyer from Pennsylvania; Connie Morella from Maryland; a number of relatively junior Republicans who are changing the nature of their party's commitment to the environment and changing the nature of environmental politics. And that's were the success is going to come. It is absolutely imperative that the environmental community understands that. That having very strong Republicans in the Congress is going to help its cause and is overall going to be the strength of overall environmentalism.

Ehrlich: Let me add just a little bit to that, and that is, in my experience in the so-called Third World, the people there are very much aware of how American behavior affects the global environment. We still have the most serious population problem in the world right here. Our missions, our activities are still a bigger environmental factor than that of any other country. That's not going to last forever, but it is now. And they're very aware of what goes on inside the United States. Listening to the sort of things that Tim said and the environmental community moving in the right direction to get the U.S. setting a better example, even though we're very good already, we're better than most countries, we need to do a lot more if we're going to make the State Department's job easier, because it's very hard to go out and tell people, as Don already indicated, do as we say, not do as we are doing, and we are not doing enough in areas like overconsumption to get people in those poor countries interested in cooperating with us at the level that they ought to be.

Question: The secretary mentioned ratification of the biodiversity treaty and I'd just like to push the question . . .

Wirth: We're not going to get it done in the current Congress. Sen. Helms has said very clearly, wait until there's a new chairman. In order to get the biodiversity treaty we may have an opportunity to get the Law of the Sea Treaty, but it's not until the Congress comes to understand the significant problem that we have around the world, not being a party to the biodiversity treaty. When gene patents start, which they're beginning now, countries are saying we're going to protect our bioresources from you, we're not going to allow your companies to come to our - we're not going to allow the trading of genetic material - that is a suicidal thing for us - and we can't do anything about it because we're not a party to the treaty. It's extraordinary. And here is something where American agriculture, 95 percent of American agriculture comes from elsewhere in the world, 95 percent of the pharmaceuticals that are now in the last ten years have been brought out of genetic compounds that were not found in the United States of America. It is an enormous economic and humane opportunity for us and in turn, for us to feed the rest of the world and to help the rest of the world. And we are cutting ourselves off from that by not having the biodiversity treaty ratified by the Senate.

It is a perfect example of where you have those forces which do not understand and don't want to try to understand how enormously important this is. That's one of the few and very egregious examples where a very small minority can really blunt the capacity of the rest of the country and the rest of the world.

Feldman: One of the interesting points and a novel suggestion that the Secretary made was the establishment of these environmental hubs that he mentioned. It seems to me that ultimate success of those environmental hubs in distributing the knowledge and technology, much of that will have to come from collaboration with NGOs and local academias who are familiar with the morays and culture of the local societies which the environmental hub will serve.

This in itself will bring to the fore a new kind of interaction between the State Department and NGOs and academia.


Download this release and its related files.

The release is provided in Adobe Acrobat format. Any images shown in the release are provided at publishing quality. Additional images also may be provided. Complete credit and caption information is included.

© Stanford University. All Rights Reserved. Stanford, CA 94305. (650) 723-2300. Terms of Use | Copyright Complaints